Europe’s drama of the foreigner

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This Red House Festival of Ideas on Europe discussion explores the growth in identity politics, looking at the role that the other plays in formulations of belonging and foreignness in our societies and politics.
These are video highlights, a full-length Bulgarian-language recording of this event can be accessed by clicking here.

About the debate:

In this discusssion, Krzysztof Czyżewski, Ivaylo Dichev & Georgi Tenev consider the rise in identity politics, the dynamics of multilateral societies and the role which the other plays in the creation of European identities.

Czyżewski begins by looking at how the new right makes use of the dichotomy around what is considered to be native and what is seen to be foreign, contemplating whether this can be considered to be a new development of the newly redemocratised European fringe or whether it is instead part of the very DNA of European culture and an integral by-product of modernity. Lamenting that voices of unity are often overheard and that the development of a European cultural community appears to be so challenging, Czyżewski ends his speech by proposing that the solution to our problems may lie in embracing a new form of polis, the xenopolis, which puts the other at the centre of society.

Where Czyżewski looked at the origins of differentiation and their potential resolution, Dichev’s talk focuses much more on the contrast between that which is deemed to be native and that which is deemed to belong, musing over the utility of such formulations, modes of thinking and constructions. For Dichev, there is no identity without an other and the two concepts exist in mutual dependence on one another, in many cases to the benefit of society. Similarly, Dichev is quick to show that while globalisation has eroded many traditionally perceived dividing lines, it has also created a great many new divisions and he describes the EU as “…an exclusively strange postmodern space with countless internal borders.”. Dichev also questions the continued validity of the very idea of geographically contiguous imagined communities in the form of the nation state, suggesting that many imagined communities have now moved beyond the geographical confines of the nation state and become widespread, globally diffuse communities of the likeminded, made up, for example, of people of similar educational and professional backgrounds.

The discussion then concludes with Georgi Tenev’s contribution, which looks at the role of language in the formulation of communities and the importance of distance to acceptance. For Tenev, a yearning for the other is a model to aspire to and the other a necessity for the definition and ascription of human value. However, he also suggests that a multilateral community is probably only able to treat that which is unfamiliar with respect when it can view it through the lens of a perfect embodiment of that other. He states that if we compare the other to ourselves, then this necessarily entails some level of dissolution, raising the spectre of assimilation and confrontation, whereas an adoption of an idealised and distanced perspective of the other can help us achieve the universalism which we are currently lacking.

To find out more about Czyżewski, Dichev & Tenev's theories of the other, watch the English-language highlights of the discussion at the top of this page. Short biographies of the speakers and a link to the full-length Bulgarian language recording of the discussion can also been found further down this page.

Alternatively, if you want to find out more about the Festival of Ideas on Europe and its other discussions, click here to visit our festival page.

Opening lecture

(In Polish, originally with Bulgarian interpretation)


Krzysztof Czyżewski - Polish Intellectual, Culturologist and Writer
Alongside his writing, Czyżewski is the co-founder and director of the Borderland Foundation and Centre of Arts, Cultures & Peoples on the Polish border to Lithuania. In 2011, together with the Borderland team, he opened an International Centre for Dialogue in Krasnogruda. Czyżewski is also the initiator of a number of programmes for intercultural dialogue in Central Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, North Africa and other border regions.

Follow-up discussion

(In Bulgarian - Bulgarian speakers can access the full-length discussion with Bulgarian interpretation on The Red House's YouTube channel by clicking here)


Irina Nedeva - Journalist, Bulgarian National Radio & Chair of the Association of European Journalists, Bulgaria


Ivaylo Dichev - Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Sofia

Georgi Tenev - Writer, Screenwriter, Director and Producer